Openness is about respect, reciprocation, risk, reach, and resistance.
Photo by Finn Hackshaw on Unsplash

Primary Author: Kate Thornhill, Digital Scholarship Librarian, University of Oregon 

“Openness is a concept that has come to characterize knowledge and communication systems, epistemologies, society and politics, institutions or organizations, and individual personalities. In essence, openness in all these dimensions refers to a kind of transparency which is the opposite of secrecy and most often this transparency is seen in terms of access to information especially within organizations, institutions or societies” (Peters, 2014)

In order to allow democratic collaboration, co-design, co-creation, co-management, and co-evaluation through the Internet, openness emphasises free, transparent, and unrestricted access to knowledge and information. And, within an academic and classroom setting, it situates instructors to be self-aware and confront socio-technologic and economic frameworks that influences their teaching practice.

In this module, we look at fundamental concepts that support open praxis: Access, Transparency, Sharing, and Accessibility. Through a critical pedagogy lens, we will explore these domains to better understand how the 5Rs of open pedagogy (respect, reciprocation, risk, reach, resistance) run through them. And more specifically, as discussed by Elizabeth Archer & Paul Prinsloo in their article, Some Exploratory Thoughts on Openness and an Ethics of Care, we will use these concepts to give an explanation for how they:

  • Question the intellectual integrity of technology platform and digital resources resources
  • Serve a commitment to prevent harm
  • Create transparency around limitations of technology platforms and digital resources
  • Expose hidden costs to students and instructors
  • Provide clarity around and access to technology and digital resources terms and conditions
  • Support a dedication to not exploit user data
  • See students as vulnerable human beings, not use users as part of a service exchange or as customers


Multicolor chairs with no one sitting in them.
Photo by Roel Dierckens on Unsplash

Primary Author: Kate Thornhill, Digital Scholarship Librarian, University of Oregon

When we frame students access to technologies, it should be framed within the discourse of surveillance capitalism — a cultural and economic force that monitors human beings, data creation and sharing behaviors analyzed by corporations for monetization. Why? Because access to digital technology platforms and digital resources is not equal for everyone.

Introducing Digital Humanities Work to Undergraduates: An Overview by Adeline Koh highlights an assortment of DH projects that could be implemented in undergraduate classroom in contrast to typical DH programming most visible at well-funded research universities. Mapping projects with Google, textual analysis with Wordle or Voyant, online exhibits with Omeka, and editing with Wikipedia are all highlighted as easy and free to use tools. However, it needs to argued that instructors need to be more critical and examination how data collected from these DH oriented-tools are used to monetize and oppress students, and it should be done through a critical institutional racism lens.

When digital tools are hosted by companies and organizations, instructors should pause and examine what data is extracted by technology company’s platforms. As part of this pause, they should make connects to how, for oppressive social and racist reasons, underserved and underrepresented communities face discrimination. In the article Pedagogy and the Logic of Platforms, Professor Chris Gilliard describes, “a web based on surveillance, personalization, and monetization works perfectly well for particular constituencies, but it doesn’t work quite as well for persons of color, lower-income students, and people who have been walled off from information or opportunities because of the ways they are categorized according to opaque algorithms.” More specifically, these proprietary and opaque algorithms affect persons of color, lower-income students, and people who have been walled off from information or opportunities through digital redlining – the intentional exclusion and denial of access to technology enriched services that could be available to communities of color. With the same framing, Professor Safiya Umoja Noble offers a similar critique of platforms like Google, which she explores more fully in her book, Algorithms of Oppression. Professor Noble’s research examines how technology platforms do not offer a fair arena for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities, and enacts discrimination that is reinforced by structural oppression, especially effecting for women of color. When companies are in control of who can and cannot have access, digital redlining through platform algorithms can harm people who live in the margins. Massive user data collection and analysis by companies directly contribute to digital inequality and racial discrimination as highlighted in gray by the 2016 article Amazon Doesn’t Consider the Race of Its Customers. Should It? by David Ingold and Spencer Soper.

Discriminated urban neighborhoods.
Image from Amazon Doesn’t Consider the Race of Its Customers. Should It?

Framing digital redlining and surveillance capitalism around expectations for technology platform use in the classroom should give us pause and time to reflect on access, oppression and power, and assumptions granted to technology platforms when used for learning. So, what does this mean when bringing digital humanities (DH) into the classroom? It means acknowledging the responsibilities teachers have in the classroom to their students and themselves. It means critically evaluating technology platforms first through how underserved and underrepresented communities are marginalized and oppressed by them, and how teachers contribute to granting power over others.

It might be tempting to think that user permissions and control over display settings are enough to protect students’ data from abuse through terms of services. Woodrow Hartzog’s A Case Against Idealising Control discusses how people in industry and policy think privacy and data in terms of control. When the reality is that the model of privacy-as-control is not designed for self-rule. Choice is predetermined, predictable, and kept within the confines of a walled terms of services; it takes shape within a “if this, then that” computational architecture. When humans engage with software as a service, service is engineered so choice is not self-controlled. Once a human has consented to entering the digital service realm, they become managed and choice is mediated. Hartzog continues that even though choice is mediated, technology service providers should be responsible for human protections regardless of how their systems are used. In fact for many, engagement with public, online forums, be they social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter or open educational spaces such as MOOCs, carries with it the risk of psychological and even physical harm. Grassroots movements such as HeartMob respond when marginalized or vulnerable people are assailed in online settings. Taking a proactive stance against this vulnerability to harm, we might pose vulnerability not as a consequence of engagement, but rather as a condition of access in the first place.

So what is one solution to try and alleviate some of these access and control issues in the classroom? As digital practitioners there needs to be a call for instructors to support students reclaiming their digital autonomy, and develop digital skills for problem-solving to help get jobs. One way of approach is developing courses and assignments that target teaching digital literacy skills, which the American Library Association defines as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” (2019). Practitioners looking for solutions to support student opportunities to develop cognitive and technical skills and abilities through information and communication technologies could take the approach of letting students control their own web domains. “Giving students their own digital domain is a radical act. It gives them the ability to work on the Web and with the Web, to have their scholarship be meaningful and accessible by others. It allows them to demonstrate their learning to others beyond the classroom walls. To own one’s domain gives students an understanding of how Web technologies work. It puts them in a much better position to control their work, their data, their identity online.” (Watters, 2015)

The University of Mary Washington’s Domain of One’s Own Initiative students, faculty, and staff to register their own domain name and associate it with a hosted web space, free of charge while at UMW. Students were given the controls over their entire web presence and cyber infrastructure and taught web development skills to create digital scholarship and data projects and online portfolios.

In closing, as part of open pedagogy practice around access, some things that instructors should be aware of include:

  1. Support students of color and lower-income with access to technology in the classroom. Digital Equity & Opportunity for All highlights that they are likely to not have grown up with access to the Internet or access digital technologies at home
  2. Review technology platform terms of service. Access always comes with a cost. It is never truly free. Control is always mediated
  3. Understand that student data behavior analytics will be extracted for monetization in order to sustain surveillance capitalist business models. Be critical of the organization or corporation that makes technology available to you for use in the classroom.
  4. Offer students the opportunity to learn how the Internet works and work in their own web domains to teach them about access inequalities, public online communications, data control, and how open source technologies are alternatives to using privately owned tools and platforms.


Arctic iceberg and its reflection in the water.
Photo by Alexander Hafemann on Unsplash

Primary Author: Megan Adams, Digital Scholarship and Instruction Librarian

Thinking critically about the tools we bring into our classes means that we must consider not only the exciting promise of new tech or its visual appeal, but also its limitations, data policies,  and terms of service. Whether we consider institutionally licensed (or even institutionally promoted) tools or freely available software, the questions explored in the Access, Surveillance, and Institutional Power sections of this course should come to bear on our evaluation, presentation, and use of tools in the classroom.

Beginning with pedagogy, and not product, in mind, we might begin by asking the following questions:

  1. What is my pedagogical goal for this course/activity?
  2. How does the tool serve this pedagogical goal?
  3. What limitations and trade-offs come with using this tool?
  4. Is it worth it?

Starting with the pedagogical outcome, we might evaluate the types of technologies we introduce to our courses. Once informed, our next obligation is to articulate these concerns to our students and, whenever possible, invite them to make their own conclusions about the technologies we present.

Beyond tech-focused questions of transparency, what does the concept of transparency bring to a critical digital pedagogy? It may help to circle back to terms of service–what are we asking our students to do? What are the implications of those requests? What must students surrender and what must they assent/consent to in order to participate in your class? And for what pedagogical purpose?

Or, consider a time when you’ve tried to learn something unfamiliar, then listen to Mary-Ann Winkelmes discuss the unwritten rules of higher education. The norms and shared values of higher education are only obvious to those who are already accustomed to them. More bluntly, the unwritten rules of higher education are only obvious to those most privileged members of a classroom community.

Transparent pedagogy seeks to address this gap. In a transparent classroom, students can see what is being asked of them and why they are expected to perform in a certain way; more importantly, when the course is no longer a black box, students  can evaluate those requests and decide whether, when, and how they are willing to engage. When they are able to engage not only the content of the course but also the pedagogical strategies for learning, students, especially first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented college students, develop greater academic confidence, enhanced sense of belonging, and valuable professional skills. A leader in thinking around transparent pedagogy, the University of Nevada–Las Vegas has developed a number of strategies for transparent pedagogy.

It is worth pausing to note that transparent pedagogy and critical pedagogy are not, in fact, the same and the methods of each may, in fact, come into conflict if we try to practice both simultaneously. For instance, if critical pedagogy asks us to co-create learning experiences with students and transparent pedagogy asks us to present expected outcomes in advance, how are we to incorporate principles of both? Reconciling these differences may involve recalibrating our expectations for learning outcomes or focal skills–or it may involve asking students to contribute to the development of these components of a course. While these questions remain, transparent pedagogy offers a valuable starting point in its emphasis on communicating the how and why of pedagogical decisions in the classroom.


Two guinea pigs share a carrot.
Photo by Rancr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Primary Author: Megan Adams, Digital Scholarship and Instruction Librarian 

Much as we’ve directed a critical eye to the technologies we’re asking students to use in a digital classroom, we should also attend to the structural issues surrounding the distribution of knowledge, more specifically, the publication of educational and scholarly content. In this section, we refer to this concept as sharing to encompass the many issues involved in making content available to others, navigating intellectual property rights, and respecting the fact that not all knowledge can and should be made available to everyone.

We should begin with questions: How do we share? Where do we share? What are the channels for sharing? Who controls the channel(s)? Who is doing the sharing? What types of knowledge can and should be shared? (For this last question, consider exploring the colonialism section of this course framework.)

While there are no easy, correct answers to these questions, asking them can help orient our thinking around the resources we bring into the classroom as well as the decisions we and students make about the material produced in/for/by a class.

As we consider channels for sharing, it is important to explore the role of commercial interest in educational resources and scholarly publishing. Much as critical digital pedagogues must interrogate the technologies we bring into the classroom, we must also attend to the implications of the distribution channels and financial models underlying the ways we share knowledge in a digital culture. SPARC, an organization advocating for a new approach to distributing information, contends that:

“…our current system for communicating research is crippled by a centuries old model that hasn’t been updated to take advantage of 21st century technology:

  1. Governments provide most of the funding for research—hundreds of billions of dollars annually—and public institutions employ a large portion of all researchers.
  2. Researchers publish their findings without the expectation of compensation. Unlike other authors, they hand their work over to publishers without payment, in the interest of advancing human knowledge.
  3. Through the process of peer review, researchers review each other’s work for free.
  4. Once published, those that contributed to the research (from taxpayers to the institutions that supported the research itself) have to pay again to access the findings. Though research is produced as a public good, it isn’t available to the public who paid for it.” (SPARC, 2019)

Many teachers and scholars are moving away from traditional, subscription-only publications and toward open access publication, open educational resources, and open data. Paywall: The Business of Scholarship explores the economics of scholarly publishing as well as the movement for open alternatives. (For closed captioning and subtitles in languages other than English, visit the video’s page on Amara, a captioning platform.) Although placing information online does not itself reduce the cost of materials, the fact remains that digital publishing has opened new pathways for distributing scholarly work.

Sharing content free of charge is one step toward more equitable exchange of knowledge, ideas, and creative work. Beyond simply allowing others to passively consume content, we might also consider the value of making it available to others to revise, remix, reuse, and redistribute our work for their own purposes. One way content creators can signal their terms for the use of their work is through a free license such a Creative Commons (CC) license or an MIT License. By selecting from standard licenses, creators communicate whether users are free to reproduce their work, what types of transformation are permitted, and whether commercial use is allowed. Free licensing is a popular trend in online publishing, but this approach is not without criticism. Although licensing content in this way allows the creator to express conditions around derivative uses, it does not prevent against unpermitted uses, nor does it protect the creator from plagiarism. Some, including Kent Anderson, also question CC’s Silicon Valley backing and argue that CC licensing accomplishes little beyond the protections currently in place through the copyright process.

In addition to licensing, we might also consider whether alternative or additional forms of attribution are needed to acknowledge contributions to a project. Framed within the context of sharing materials, we must ask whose intellectual property our work is. Who owns the end product? As we publish educational resources online, whose labor do we depend on? How should all contributions be represented?

  • Content contributors?
  • Instructional designers?
  • Research assistants?
  • Technologists?
  • Librarians?
  • Copy editors?
  • Photographers?
  • Graphic designers?
  • Students?
  • Anyone else?

Additional concerns emerge as we consider the implications of sharing everything widely and at all times. In the Access and Transparency sections of this module, we discuss the vulnerability that openly sharing information about ourselves online brings, especially for people from marginalized groups or communities. As an example, in an ongoing phenomenon often referred to as GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian and other female bloggers and journalists writing about toxic gender norms in online gaming communities were met with a deluge of threats of violence, sexual assault, and death. GamerGate is far from an isolated instance and related harassment continues. With the availability of personally identifying information (photographs, home addresses, places of employment, family relationships), online harassment quickly shifts to the real world. This threat is magnified when harassers share this information in a practice known as doxxing. In the Access section of this module, we discuss the work of HeartMob as a response to online harassment. Here, we’d like to suggest another approach to consider: what are the roles of community codes of conduct and platform moderators or administrators in preventing harassment and discrimination?

We should also pause to consider whether knowledge can and should be shared. Cultural heritage materials and indigenous knowledge are a very important examples of the types of content that may not always be openly shared on the web. Within some cultures, protocols govern the sharing of information and one’s position in a group determines the level of access one is afforded.


Braille Font
Photo by cea+ on Flickr

Primary Author: Nada Savicevic, Instructional Designer/Lecturer 

Accessibility means providing equal access to everyone regardless of ability or technology use. The concept of accessibility is generally associated with accommodations for learners with disabilities, but accessibility practices result in “curb cuts” that benefit everyone.

Defining disability is a complex, unfolding matter. The term “disability” covers a broad span and degrees of conditions that may have been present at birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time. However, it is crucial to understand that accessibility focuses not on the person and their disability, but on the proactive identification, removal, and prevention of barriers to persons with disabilities. Thus, accessibility shifts the problem of access from the individual to the environment, services, policies and practices so that the change can take place, and at the same time enables persons with disabilities to participate fully. Barriers can be both visible and invisible, so often access can be restricted unintentionally. The way we interact with persons with disabilities can potentially create attitudinal barriers based on our beliefs, knowledge, previous experience, and education (e.g. worrying about offending someone by offering help, one might end up ignoring or avoiding person with disabilities). It is also important to differentiate between accommodation and accessibility. Accomodation is adaptation or adjustment in order to provide an individual person with disability with equitable and non-discriminatory opportunities for participation. Accomodation is reactive, access is proactive. For example, if an instructor gives out a printed assignment document in class, a student with visual impairment, will not be able to read it. That student will require accommodation, so the instructor will need to provide an alternative version of the document, such as an electronic version of the text or audio file. On the other hand, accessibility is achieved through designing, developing, implementing, and supporting systems that provide an equivalent learning experience to all users, regardless of disability or the way they access the technology.

Accessibility seeks to break down barriers and create inclusive learning environments. It is greatly complemented by Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework based on the three broad principles: to provide multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement. Universal Design for Learning is deliberate and pre-emptive response to the changing and varying learning needs of students, including those with disabilities. The Universal Design for Learning Guidelines is a tool that can be used to design learning experiences that meet the needs of all learners. These guidelines are not prescriptive, but rather a set of suggestions to be incorporated into the design and delivery of a course based on specific learning contexts. Designing with access and UDL in mind also reinforces effective traditional teaching practices that have been established without the premise of digital technology. For example, helping learners assimilate knowledge through nonlinguistic representations (e.g., creating graphics, models, drawings, and kinesthetic activities) is complementary with the action and expression principle of UDL, and the guideline to use multiple tools for construction and composition (e.g. digital storytelling instead of a written essay). (UDL Guideline 5.2, CAST UDL Graphic Organizer, 2018)

Digital access barriers can come in many forms—from technical barriers to design barriers, such as poorly structured content. In virtually all cases, the alternatives provided to help learners with disabilities will be beneficial well beyond just those learners. For instance, text alternatives for images (alt tags) can make images searchable, or help when the images don’t load due to connectivity problems. Captions for videos can make video content accessible in a noisy environment. Transcripts provide narration or dialogue from the audio or video content to learners who are blind or have low vision, but at the same time allow all learners to scan and search content. Providing text alternatives for images is one of the most fundamental accessibility practices. The basic principle is easy to understand, but the actual implementation is often misunderstood since a blanket approach rarely works. If a poorly structured text alternative is provided, technically a compliance checkbox is ticked off, but the alternative will not be useful to anyone. Context is a key, which is explained in detail in the article “Alternative Text” by Various kinds of digital access barriers and their implications for content and interface design are further described in “The User’s Perspective” section of the

The most recognized source of information on the web and digital content accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). WCAG is an important part of the foundation for accessibility standards and legislation around the world (Brogan, 2008), including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, and a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT™). The VPAT Repository provides vendor accessibility documentation more visible to libraries. As per WCAG principles, digital content must be perceivable to the user’s senses—if you cannot see the content or navigation, you should have the option to hear it, operable—keyboard control needs to be enabled for used navigation to assist users who are blind or have motor disabilities, understandable—user interface must use clear language, logical structure, and simple formatting to support understanding by all users, and robust—content needs to be interpreted by a variety of current and future technologies. (W3C, 2015; WebAIM, 2015)

Commonly cited practices for accessible digital content:

  1. Complex images should be described and referenced in the surrounding text
  2. A text alternative should be provided for all meaningful images
  3. Images of text should be avoided
  4. Captions and transcripts for audio-visual content, and transcripts for audio content should be provided
  5. Content should be structured using heading levels
  6. Conveying meaning with colour alone should be avoided
  7. Meaningful words should be used as link text
  8. Data tables should be described, structured, and captioned
  9. Every interaction with a mouse should be possible with a keyboard

Check out Accessibility Guidelines for e-Learning for more information and examples.

While many guidelines for best practices exist, and there is a great evidence of work being done at the research and development level of digital accessibility, digital accessibility has yet to reach the mainstream. Our understanding and attitudes towards digital accessibility are improving, which helps move forward towards assessment technologies and policy developments. However, there is still a clear gap between the policies and their practical implementation, mostly due to the lack of technical skills and training, the high costs, and a lack of knowledge on how people with disabilities interact with digital content; also “…accessibility is impacted by social drivers, not technical ones, and include limited awareness, disability stigma and a lack of empathy as presenting the greatest hurdles to universal accessibility and acceptability”. (Brown and Hollier, 2015)

Keeping accessibility in mind, think about the following questions:

  • What is available to you at your institution?
  • What kind of digital products are you allowed to use at your institution?
  • What softwares are we using in the classroom that are not accessible?
  • How accessible technologies interact with the technologies we use for teaching and learning?


Canvas with splashed paint.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Let’s put what we’ve covered so far in this module into practice! Select one or as many of these tools and accompanying digital projects as you’d like and investigate them for use in the classroom. As you do, consider the reflective questions below as a guide through the issues of openness (access, transparency, sharing, accessibility) we’ve explored in this module.

Omeka Classic – Digital Exhibits and Digital Collections
“Omeka Classic is a web publishing platform for sharing digital collections and creating media-rich online exhibits.” (Omeka, 2019) It was created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. There is a technology as a service where you can pay a company to host your Omeka digital exhibits and digital collections or setup a free one that has limited features. There is also open source software available so you can setup the platform on your own web hosting infrastructure.

Omeka Classic Example:  Making History: Transcribe

WordPress – Blogging and Websites
WordPress is a web publishing platform for blogging and making different types of websites. It was created in 2003 by Mike Little and Matt Mullenweg and is said to power over 30% of the web. There is a technology as a service where you can pay a company to host your WordPress or setup a free one that has limited features. There is also open source software available so you can setup the platform on your own web hosting infrastructure.

WordPress Example: Digitizing American Feminisms

Pressbooks – eBooks Publishing
Pressbooks is an open-source web-based authoring platform based on the WordPress that allows creation of ready-to-publish books. It was founded by Hugh McGuire. A number of different file formats can be imported into Pressbooks for editing, including Word docs, ePub, and HTML. Pressbooks will output the textbook as a mobile-friendly website, an ePub document (for use in e-readers), and a PDF (for printing).

Pressbooks Example: The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project

Tableau – Data Visualization
Tableau is an interactive data visualization software/platform developed by Chris Stolte, Pat Hanrahan, and Christian Cabot in 2003. It can be used for data cleaning, creating exploratory and production-grade visualizations, and publishing interactive dashboards and stories.  Tableau is proprietary software, but it is available through free and subscription licensing. With the Tableau Public (the free version), all data is public-facing.

Tableau Example: Kirtland’s Warbler: Conservation Efforts and Citizen Science


Reflective Questions Connected to Each Concept


  • How do you ensure your students have access to digital technologies while enacting the 5Rs of open pedagogy around the concept of access?
  • How do you ensure student privacy in your classroom while using freely available tools?
  • If instructors teach these digital tools in the context of information, data, and digital media literacy, then who should be part of the conversations and curriculum designs to support open pedagogy and access?


  • How can you articulate the pedagogical value of this tool to your course? To yourself? To your students?
  • If you were to assign this tool to students, how would you assess their work? How would you communicate your assessment approach to students?


  • What questions do you have about the licensing terms or terms of service for the platform? How would complying with these terms impact participants (e.g., students, instructors, etc.) in your courses?
  • Beyond licensing, what other forms of attribution should we consider? For collaborative work, what options does the platform provide for recognize labor?


  • Why is it important?
  • What are you allowed to use at your institution?
  • What softwares are we using in the classroom that are not accessible?

List of Readings

Road between the trees.
Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash